Monday, June 23, 2014
TV CRITICS and A FEW REASONS WHY I HAVE NO RESPECT FOR THEM.
Somebody posted in a FB group about the TV Critic Choice Awards, which admittedly, I hadn't really been paying attention to, (Did they air, btw? Eh, probably.) but someone singled me out because he thought Louis C.K. for his show "Louie" should've won Best Actor in a comedy as opposed to Jim Parsons, who I've praised more than once for just how skilled and difficult his role on "The Big Bang Theory" is. Frankly, while I admire both shows, I would've normally debated this with se person, but the more I thought about it-, here's the thing, I know there's a reason for the existence of TV critics, and many of them, may be good at it, but there's so many inherent, and some not-so-inherent problems with being a television critic, that, frankly, I have a hard time, even having any sort of respect for the profession.
That sort of declaration may seem shocking to some of you. I'm a film critic, so you'd probably think television criticism isn't that far off of film criticism, right? No, actually. Most of the time, it's those many little differences that really changes somethings that seem very similar but actually make them impossibly different to even compare. And that's a concept I don't think a lot of television critics get. I wrote a whole blog once, making a similar declaration about how "The Voice" is vastly superior to "American Idol" and "The X-Factor" in that matter, that link is below:
But not understanding the minor differences in TV shows is really, one chip off an iceberg, the real problem with television critics, is that, no matter how knowledgeable they are about television (And frankly most of them are severely lacking that) but the difference between television and movies is that, TV critics, have a choice, what to watch. More now than ever actually with the continuous growth in internet television. You see, with movie critics, ideally, you want as little choice as possible regarding what you watch. You watch, whatever's available and in town that day, and you attend any/all screenings available/you're invited to. Now, for critics like me, who aren't paid and do this for free, we have a little more choice, and while I exercise that, I actually strive to eliminate it as much as possible, but with television, it's inescapable. Now, granted, the Emmys have issues, especially in the voting processes and boards and whatnot, and I know critics, to some extent watch more television, and get some advantages like screeners of episodes that arrive earlier than most but it's still mostly choice. There's no possible way, anybody can watch all of television at one time, so it's almost impossible for them to really know what's the best of something or anything. Now, you can say the same thing about other awards, but you can kinda take in, enough of cinema and theater, but Tv critics they don't necessarily have the capabilities to take in the whole of television.
But let's talk about the whole of television they don't consider, 'cause they really don't take that into account (Or they don't try to anyway). Now, I consider myself, incredibly knowledgeable about television, and I'm still constantly struggling to learn about it, and I strive to learn about it, always have. I, from a very young age made it a point to study the history of television as well as modern television as much as possible. If you were gonna enjoy it, you better learn about it. Nick at Nite was television class to me, and I watched all of it, and I'll be blunt, I know more about television than most TV critics, and I know more about television than I would say I know about film. Not just any one genre either, I study everything. Sitcoms, variety, dramas, soap operas, talk shows, reality shows, instructional shows, miniseries, TV movies, news magazines,- I've probably forgotten more about game shows than most people my age have ever thought there was to learn about. I study children shows-even today, I study travel shows, infomercials, the news, sports broadcasting,- I used to write a monthly article on another website on professional wrestling, 'cause somebody thought I was knowledgeable enough on the subject to do that. As far as I'm concerned, the minute I decided to study television, it is all parts of a giant whole, and they all should be treated equally as such. Cause they're all television to me. You know what I've been watching lately? "Frank's Place". Yeah, exactly, most of you haven't heard of it, and probably many of you don't remember it; it was the last time a TV show that only lasted one season got a Best Series Emmy nomination, among many others. Now, you may asking yourselves, "Well, that's great, you've watched a lot of television, and studied it, fine, but what does that have to do with television today?" Everything! What, like reruns, aren't on television! This is something critics miss, they talk about TV shows today, as though, A, they only have the knowledge of the last ten or 15 years of television at the most, but B despite what the networks may think, they're not just competing with the other networks new programming. All this TV knowledge, if I have it, other people do to (Older people have probably lived through more of it than me, especially since television was little more than five or six channels back then), but more than that, it's still on television. They're competing still, against these shows, and most of them are good shows, many of them greater and better than the best shows on TV now, and many will stay on in reruns for years, decades, and they should. So, when a new TV show comes on, and you have to make a choice, let's simplify this for a minute and say it's only two. An average episode of "Good Times", not a special one, just an average one, maybe one of the later ones after John Amos left and a 12-year-old Janet Jackson's on there for some reason, or this new show, that, may or may not be any good, but it will take up a minimum of half-an-hour of your time to find out, and again, let me remind you, there's about 200, at least, 200, 2,000 maybe, other channels to watch as well. A show has to sell me on that level to even get me to watch. Hell, if there's nothing good on, I can pop in a "The West Wing" DVD; that's a huge aspect of television criticism, that nobody gets, if you're gonna do it, you gotta understand that the key part of television that so distinctly separates it from others and immediately too. "Is this show, good enough to make that choice, to watch it over everything else?" I know there's DVDs now and streaming and whatnot, but you know what, when your new favorite shows get cancelled after half a season all the time, that choice aspect, it becomes more important. Even without the time thing, with the internet now, you still have to make that choice, in fact you really better want to make that choice to find something on the internet. But, if you miss a movie, you can probably watch it another time; in many ways, if you miss a TV show, there's a decent chance, you'll never see it again.
That "choice" is the core of television and how often do you see that brought up in a review? Hardly ever. Cause they don't think about "the best choice", they focus only on the choices they make; the choices they "like" In almost no other field of criticism are the critics so singularly obsessed with particular programs or genres. In fact, because nobody can fill up a whole lifetime of television in their entirety (And no one even bothers trying), so instead of real critics who look at everything, we get specialist critics now. That's exactly how many places break them up. They find people who like reality to criticize reality, and people who like cable dramas to do cable, and sitcom people to do sitcoms and so-on and so-forth. Now, I was a little about specialists recently on my Stuckmann blog, because of the indication that they promoted only watching movies that you think they like and you're comfortable, but that said, it's actually good to be a specialist because, you become a go-to expert, and frankly there's a very good thing to be actually. Now, as a critic, I'm more iffy on it, because you are narrowing down your field to stuff you like the best, and when you give up a critical eye as the number one influence, and instead, makes it something you like, you become a bias opinion. A fan, really; that's what's really peppered the TV critic field, fans, and most of them simply support and promote their favorite shows nowadays. Basically, because the audience of television, watches what they like, that the critics should then be that too. So, now we got a bunch of fans as critics.
And what do these fans talk about, and how do they judge and analyze a TV show? Well, they obsess over it usually. Usually that's over-the-top for a show you like, but especially if a show you think doesn't deserve that kind of praise or attention. And how do obsessed fans analyze the TV shows they most enjoy? Episode by episode, the most frustrating and useless way possible! Now again, like specialist in a genre, there's a place for everything, and in many situations, it's good to discuss TV shows in terms of analyzing the parts, the way television series are separated and the format they tell their stories. I've done it occasionally too once in a while, I've written entire blogposts based or influenced around certain episodes of a series. But, usually it's in the terms of a larger context of either the series itself or television as a whole. Even, critics I admire, are doing these episode by episode criticisms and analyses of series nowadays. Now first of all, this is becoming horribly influential because it's really exemplifying this trend of these long-form serial shows, which, while many of those shows are good and entertaining, it doesn't make singularly for the best episodes and it's gonna lead to a lot of very good series, not surviving years from now 'cause of their lack of rerun capability, but also, you really- TV series, especially serial ones like the critics are so fond of analyzing this way-, it's not fair to judge episode by episode, 'cause you don't always know how or what they're setting things up for. Things that might not work well at the moment, might be laying the groundwork for things up ahead, and frankly, most of the time, if it's really done well, you won't even notice when it's happening until you check the reruns 3 or 4 times later. You'd be amazed how well they can do that with reality shows, much less scripted television. Now, that makes the critics try and guess what's gonna happen next, and that's annoying as fuck, but even worst than that, especially since we're really talking not about true critics but of fans of a very limiting genre, or a limited series sometimes, you're gonna move into this, unnecessary hypercritical area where you're looking at a series and wondering, "Should they have done this?" "Wouldn't it be better if they did it this way?" or "Wouldn't it be cool if these character got together?" or "If this thing happened?" or "I didn't like how my characters change?"! That last one, that when the criticism gets really bad when the fan starts trying to take possession of a series they watch, as though them as the fans and the audience, have some say in how something should go. Which is really fucked up and obnoxious. Even if they're right, and have a point when they say these things, it's the perspective they're coming from. It's a fan perspective; it's a limited perspective, and it's not really a good analysis or reflection of what really goes into producing and writing and creating a television show.
This is another thing that's sorta weird, but I know people, who've been showrunners, producers and writers of television shows, sometimes you really don't see the numerous aspects that go into constructing even one episode. It's a little different now with this cable element as well as with networks being more willing to accept these deals where they'll just creative people like a Tina Fey, Louis C.K., Aaron Sorkin, etc., they'll simply give them control in exchange for less money and let them have free reign, but there's still so much more going on. Why a character gets set up to die, why one gets set-up to leave, why certain things happen the way they do. The big bitchy thing they do is find little kitschy terms of supposed reference from the past, strangely enough, considering otherwise they don't even bother with it, to try and backhandedly insult things they don't particularly about a show. Some of these are becoming the most famous ones, "Jump the Shark" for instance, of course infamous from "Happy Days", but some of the other ones I find are built out of a weird and often unknowing and lack of knowledge about what's going on. Somebody pointed me towards one I hadn't heard before, "Creator's Pet", which, frankly, somebody showed me the list of these supposedly unlikable characters that apparently fans didn't like and were didn't die soon enough or something else that seem to frustrate them that clearly showed they never worked in television, that somehow they stuck around and were integral to the plots and stories of a TV show, because the creator liked them and did this, almost antagonistically against the fans. I've heard some bad writers (Joss Whedon, who usually gets way more critical acclaim especially from TV critics than he should) actually listened to some of this shit and purposefully tried to tweak his shows towards that audience by getting their hopes up and then squelched by a character's impending doom being unclaimed and almost taunting them. Now, frankly one of the reasons I can't stand Whedon is that he acknowledges people like this to begin with much less, even have that kind of influence in your shows, but besides that he's actually right in this instance. These are the talks and ideas of people who should have absolutely no knowledge of television, but act like they show is there's to mold and manipulate. No, it's the other way around. What your experiencing when you're watching a show, is how the show is taking them on a long journey and story and it's supposed to play the audience like a fiddle, and what we're really supposed to be looking that, is how well they do that, not only for the short term but for the long.
The more you really study this too, it shouldn't be as hard them to catch certain things, and certain things quickly that sometimes they don't do. They catch these catchphrase-y cliq-y moments, like when a show jumps a shark or something, and then jump all over that, but they miss, like how three or four episodes the most into "Homeland" that it should've been obvious that, it had a very short lifespan in terms of it, being one of the very top dramas (Unless they knew when and how to do a big 180 and re-imagine the show practically), and now they're surprised, two-three seasons later, we're debating whether it's even an Emmy contender. The whole structure of the show was limiting and short term, I mean- these critics really seem to be, of the moment, and most of the time, they seem to never look deeper. The second they think a show, even remotely goes down in quality to them, even if it's a temporary sludge, "Oh, it's jumped the shark!" or "It's not the show, not as good, blah, blah, blah!" Most of the time, they're wrong about that, 'cause the writers/creators are trying to play the audience like a piano that goes up and down and sideways through different movements and usually, soon after they're back onto it, but also it's not like the show goes really bad that quickly! Usually, when a really good or great show goes like that, it's still usually the best show on television, 'cause usually it's still that damn good. At worst, falls a little bit, and in some ways it won't ever be as great again, but they end up treating that little natural, yes natural dip, 'cause long-running shows have to have a natural ebb and flow them of their tone and flow, and have a dip after a huge moment, or else everything's a huge moment, and then you go way over-the-top and then really jump the shark the ocean, the pool and everything else, they then completely dismiss and disregard the show as though it's suddenly completely shit. It's usually not.
They're busy looking for, the next big thing, to either claim as great or trash as shit, that sometimes, they miss the real subtleties in the shows that really do distinguish these things most of the time, and they don't promote them. Or they're late promoting them like "Breaking Bad", suddenly three or four they realize "Breaking Bad" is really good! I'm people like who were on it, pretty much right away, went like, "Eh, Bryan Cranston's won the damn Emmy every year, why are you on it now?" You can't do it. You can't have a good enough, wide-ranging enough view of all of television, of all the knowledge and history of television to really encompass and grasp the best and worst of television. There's too much of it. Even when people try to narrow it down more and more they still miss it completely sometimes, and they either blindly like or blindly hate something. As I knowledgeable in television I consider myself, I do it too, that's why I don't talk review television too often, and when I do, whether it be an episode or usually I try to look at a whole series, in it's entirety or one that's been around long enough that it's basically as apart of the sociocultural landscape as most series, and even then, and frankly, the lack of conception of this, from a TV critic or a TV critic's perspective is completely bizarre. I don't know if they even realize just how bizarre it is. It's been that way since the beginning; it's amazing what they could on three or four channels even back then. This incredible kaleidoscopic zeitgeist or art and reality clashing and colliding with each other. I watched an old "The Dick Cavett Show" the other day, it had a roundtable of Janis Joplin, like two months before she died, Gloria Swanson, who dates to the beginning of silent cinema, Margot Kidder, right at the beginning of her career, and it even had a controversial football player talking about a book he wrote about the nature of the sport and- basically something that led into the eventual discussions on safety and concussions that the sport's dealing with now, and that was 40+ years ago, and all of them, together on the same panel. Somebody had this episode on a posted collection, and posted it on Youtube. Television isn't the same as film or theater or books where you can look at each thing separately and in their own sphere, uh-huh. A TV show has to be good enough to compete with that. Not even within a genre really, dramas and sitcom reruns are against each other all the time, and against a SportsCenter and against a "Real Housewives of..." wherever the fuck, and all the other shit that's on. If you're not considering it, within entire sphere (Especially since, TV networks have to) then they're not considering it at all really. They're just talking about what they like and what they hate. They gotta really know enough how to look closer, and then really actually look closer at it. They gotta care about television, plain and simple, and frankly, every time I read a TV review of some kind, it always feels like, they look at the television as the box with tubes and lights in it that Edward R. Murrow talks about, and they don't really embrace it and it's power and the history it creates and represents. It's still the center of the room, it's still the thing you watch everyday, it's where you go for everything, it's the dominant form of media in the world, it's our greatest influence in pop culture, and the magic window to the rest of the world, right in our living room. Now, it's on our phones I guess, but still, they never seem to equate or treat it like that, and usually it's just a set-up to a punchline for most of them it seems like. Maybe I don't get it, and I'm imagining shit, but whatever this disconnect it is, between the ways that typical TV critics, approach television, it's irrevocably subpar to how, frankly I think it should be approached. Cheers and Jeers is not good enough, that's the audience, we're supposed to simply like or dislike what's on TV, not the critics. They should be critical, like everything in television beforehand is apart of the current show you're watching, which it is, and then, treat it like the power button on the remote's broken. Yeah, the audience can always turn it off, the critic shouldn't first of all, and they secondly, they oughta really embrace and study it, but they rarely do.
Posted by David Baruffi at 2:56 PM